Santa Clara University

SCU Today

Back to Blog

Civil rights lawyer Morris Dees reminds SCU graduates of lessons of September 11

SANTA CLARA, Calif.-- June 15, 2002 - The final academic year for the Class of 2002 at Santa Clara University began with the tragedy of September 11 coming close to home, as students learned that SCU sophomore Deora Bodley had been among the victims of Flight 93 that crashed in Pennsylvania.

The year ended today with reminders from civil rights lawyer Morris Dees of the lessons of bravery from those who perished on Flight 93, which apparently crashed after passengers stormed terrorists who had taken over the plane.

"I'm sure that you and many of my fellow Americans cheered for those heroes when we heard the story," he said, "and I'm sure that those in this country who would tear us apart, those that are members of hate groups, also cheered along with the rest of us. Those who would hate Jews and those who would do violence against gays probably cheered along with the rest of us for that Flight of Heroes, without realizing that that man who was a karate expert was Jewish and that that ex-rugby player was gay."

Dees, who founded the Southern Poverty Law Center and who leads efforts to combat intolerance and hate groups, reminded his audience of 1260 graduates, 500 faculty, and approximately 11,000 spectators that despite growing prosperity in the U.S., "the troubling issue of injustice" remains.

"We have a nation that preaches tolerance and love and understanding, and we have great diversity, yet last year more than 50,000 hate crimes were committed in America," Dees said.

"I believe that each of you is going to make a major contribution not only to making sure that the good things happen,…but also that we deal with these troubling issues of injustice," he said.

At the 8:30 a.m. ceremonies in Buck Shaw Stadium at the SCU campus, Dees received an honorary degree by SCU President Paul Locatelli, S.J. Dees was the second SCU commencement speaker this year with a legacy as a civil rights lawyer. Fred Gray, a fellow Alabaman who once represented Dr. Martin Luther King, spoke to SCU law school graduates last month.

Both speakers drew on King's reacting to the racist violence of the early 1960s with love and hope as inspiration in their lives, and in the lives for college graduates in the 21st century.

"The most important thing that you'll do that you'll look back on 40, 50, 60, 70 years from now will be whether you did justice," Dees told graduates today.

SCU's Class of 2002 valedictorian, 22-year-old Seattle native Brendan Donckers, later responded to Dees' challenge: "Our ability lies in our opportunities," he said. "We can show hope, we can choose action."

Graduate degrees in business, engineering, counseling psychology, education and pastoral ministries will be awarded in ceremonies at 9:30 a.m. on Sunday, June 16. The speaker on Sunday will be noted Silicon Valley marketing consultant Regis P. McKenna, a member of the SCU Board of Trustees and chairman emeritus of The McKenna Group.

Also at Saturday's undergraduate ceremonies, honorary degrees were awarded: John W. Donohue, S.J. (Doctor of Humane Letters), Barbara Zahner (Doctor of Public Service), Thomas J. Reese, S.J. (Doctor of Letters), Anna Halprin (Doctor of Fine Arts), Morris Dees (Doctor of Laws).

About Santa Clara University

Santa Clara University, a comprehensive Jesuit, Catholic university located in California's Silicon Valley, offers its 7,400 students rigorous undergraduate curricula in arts and sciences, business, and engineering, plus master's and law degrees. Distinguished nationally by the third-highest graduation rate among all U.S. master's universities, California's oldest higher-education institution demonstrates faith-inspired values of ethics and social justice. More information is on line at www.scu.edu.

<p>Civil rights lawyer Morris Dees speaks at Undergraduate Commencement on June 15.</p>

Tags: ugcommencement

Printer-friendly format